In praise of middle managers.Harv Bus Rev. 2001 Sep; 79(8):72-9, 160.HB
Middle managers have often been cast as dinosaurs. Has-beens. Mediocre managers and intermediaries who defend the status quo instead of supporting others' attempts to change organizations for the better. An INSEAD professor has examined this interesting breed of manager--in particular, middle managers' roles during periods of radical organizational change. His findings will surprise many. Middle managers, it turns out, make valuable contributions to the realization of radical change at companies--contributions that go largely unrecognized by most senior executives. Quy Nguyen Huy says these contributions occur in four major areas. First, middle managers often have good entrepreneurial ideas that they are able and willing to realize--if only they can get a hearing. Second, they're far better than most senior executives at leveraging the informal networks at companies that make substantive, lasting change. Because they've worked their way up the corporate ladder, middle managers' networks run deep. Third, they stay attuned to employees' emotional needs during organizational change, thereby maintaining the transformation's momentum. And finally, they manage the tension between continuity and change--they keep the organization from falling into extreme inertia or extreme chaos. The author examines each of these strengths, citing real-world examples culled from his research. Of course, not every middle manager in an organization is a paragon of entrepreneurial vigor and energy, Huy acknowledges. But cavalierly dismissing the roles that middle managers play--and carelessly reducing their ranks--will drastically diminish senior managers' chances of realizing radical change at their companies. Indeed, middle managers may be the most effective allies of corner office executives when it's time to make major changes in businesses.